Central Louisiana, including Alexandria and the surrounding area, is at risk of losing its current representative in Congress and seeing its legislative seats move further south in the state’s next political redistribution process. But local residents are divided over whether the political changes would be a step in the right direction.
The Government Affairs Committees of the Louisiana Legislature held a public meeting on the redistribution of the political borders of the State at LSU-Alexandria on Tuesday evening. It was the fourth of 10 hearings committees are holding around the state on political redistribution.
At the Alexandria meeting, many white local government officials stressed to lawmakers that they want to retain much of their current representation, especially first-year U.S. Representative Julia Letlow, a Republican from Monroe whose district extends to Alexandria and to the North Shore region.
“Leave us alone, okay? We like it as it is, âCity of Ball mayor Gail Wilking told lawmakers on Tuesday. “Did you get my message? Leave us alone.”
But blacks who testified Tuesday argued for a redesign of the Louisiana congressional map – a map that would include two predominantly black congressional districts.
Only one of Louisiana’s six current congressional districts – District 1 which covers New Orleans and parts of Baton Rouge – is made up primarily of black residents, though a third of the state’s population identifies with it. like black.
“Here in Alexandria, black voters do not have the opportunity to elect their candidates,” because of the way the lines of Congress are currently drawn, said Jared Evans, attorney at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.
Evans said his organization had submitted seven map proposals to lawmakers based on the most recent census data that would create two predominantly black congressional districts. Six of the seven maps would place parts of Alexandria and central Louisiana in one of those two majority black seats, he said.
The League of Women Voters of Louisiana – which advocates for civic engagement and the right to vote – is also arguing for the creation of a second black majority district in Congress. The league’s state council voted unanimously to support a request for two seats in Congress earlier this year. Christian Greene, the organization’s vice president, told lawmakers on Tuesday evening.
The demand comes at a time when Louisiana’s population is diversifying. From 2010 to 2020, Louisiana’s overall population grew by 2.7%, but the number of residents who identify as white has declined.
In 2020, the number of people who identify as white fell 6.3% – from 173,500 people – from 10 years ago, said William Blair, the Louisiana Legislature demographer, on Tuesday. . Meanwhile, the black population outpaced the state’s overall growth by increasing 3.8%, to 56,200 people.
The number of people who identified as Asian, Native American and Hispanic has also increased significantly, although these communities still represent a relatively small percentage of the state’s population. While 33 percent of state residents identify as black, only 4.25 percent identify as Hispanic, the second largest minority population, according to information provided at the hearing.
Louisiana’s significant decline in white population may be due, in part, to a shift in U.S. Census data collection, Blair said. The federal government made it easier in 2020 to identify a person’s race as “Other” on the form only in 2010. And the number of people identifying their race as “Other” has exploded from 1.8% at 5.6%. The category in Louisiana from 2010 to 2020 saw a slight increase of 180,447 people.
The policy of creating a second predominantly black congressional district in Louisiana is also difficult as the process is controlled by conservative, white, and Republican lawmakers from the Louisiana Legislature.
RECEIVE MORNING TICKETS IN YOUR RECEPTION BOX
The two lawmakers leading the redistribution efforts, Senator Sharon Hewitt, R-Slidell, and Representative John Stefanski, R-Crowley, have expressed interest in running for a statewide post. They have no real incentive to anger the Republican base in any region of the state by replacing a local Republican congressman’s district with one that favors a Democrat.
Political constituencies are also not meant to be drawn exclusively on the basis of race, although in practice race is often a major factor in defining political lines at all levels of government.
The issue of moving from a Republican-leaning district to a Democratic-leaning district could also be complicated by who might risk losing their job. Northern and central Louisiana have been losing population for decades, but still retain two of the six seats in Congress, represented by Letlow and U.S. Representative Mike Johnson, R-Shreveport.
The combination of those two seats – or the creation of a new Democratic-leaning seat – would put Letlow or Johnson in danger of losing their post. Letlow is the newest member of the Louisiana delegation, but also the first and only Republican woman Louisiana sent to Congress.
Letlow came to Congress after her husband, elected Congressman Luke Letlow, died suddenly from COVID-19 late last year before he could take office.
Some Republicans are not keen on potentially redrawing the district boundaries so as to oust the top-ranking Louisiana woman, who is widowed, in state or federal office after serving less than one term.
Federal and state laws require that Louisiana’s political districts be redrawn once every 10 years to reflect population changes within the state. Louisiana’s new political boundaries will affect seats in Congress, the Council on Elementary and Secondary Education, the Civil Service Commission, the Louisiana Senate, the Louisiana House and possibly the Court. Supreme of Louisiana.
Lawmakers should draw the Louisiana congressional seats so that they are as equal in population as possible.
Currently, Southeast Louisiana Congressional Districts 1 and 6 – which are represented by Steve Scalise and Garret Graves – are overcrowded. Districts 4 and 5 of northern and central Louisiana – represented by Johnson and Letlow – are underpopulated.
Central Louisiana could also lose seats in Louisiana House and the Senate. Lawmakers are required to redraw the lines of state houses so that they are within 5% of the ideal population for each district.
Almost all of the parishes in central Louisiana lost population from 2010 to 2020, and no parish in the area has seen its local population increase in the past decade, according to legislative staff.
All the seats in the Central Louisiana State Senate are underpopulated as they are currently drawn, but Senate District 31 – occupied by Louie Bernard, R-Natchitoches – has lost the most population of all seats. of the State Senate. The rural district must grow by 11 percent to meet the new needs of the population. It currently covers parts of Sabine, Natchitoches, Rapides, Bienville, RiviÃ¨re Rouge, Grant and Winn parishes.
Most of the Louisiana House headquarters in the central region are also underpopulated. Districts 21 (Travis Johnson), District 26 (Lance Harris), and District 28 (Daryl Deshotel) are expected to gain the most residents from the region. They are at least 10 percent underpopulated.
Fewer seats in Congress and the Louisiana Legislature would mean less political influence – and perhaps fewer resources for central Louisiana, which is why local government officials advocate keeping as many districts as possible.